In this month's issue of First Things there is an article by R.R. Reno called "The Return of the Fathers" (unfortunately not online). It deals with many things, but the main gist of the article is about how patristic studies (study of the Church Fathers) is resurging in all Christian traditions and what it and they can teach us today. My own history of the Fathers is a little different...
I am at heart a sceptic. I love tradition, I say, but at heart I am your classical Protestant: I fear what tradition can do and so I avoid traditional tradition. I even avoid much Reformed tradition just because it is tradition. In some ways, I treat tradition academically: I love it until it affects me. At that point I chafe and squirm and become very quiet, lest I upset the keepers of the tradition.
Part of this was occasioned by my limited study of Church history. I read, in a well-regarded history, that the Church Fathers adopted "Logos Christology" because of the resonances it had with Greek philosophy. Being at that point a nascent Van Tillian/Dooyeweerdian, I was beginning to grow uneasy with all things Greek (and I still am that way). How could I reconcile this "pagan" orthodoxy with the Bible, I thought? In good scholarly fashion, then, I have dutifully ignored and despised the Church Fathers, losing respect for any writer that uses them in their arguments (after all, I thought, they used those absolutely goofy allegorical arguments!), and steadily separating me from over 2000 years of history and continuity in the development of my religion.
However, due to an unfortunate incident in which my theological doubts were flouted in front of my academic chair (without my consent, nonetheless), I decided that the time has finally come. I can no longer ignore or despise these vast repositories of wisdom and faith--not for myself or for my students. I can no longer despise what I do not know, even if they have made mistakes along the way that may have set our mutual religion off track (as if I haven't!).
One of the things that Reno brings up in the article is how Irenaeus could name his teachers in succession down to the apostles. This is a very ancient and respected technique of "degreeing" that parallels, and in many ways surpasses, our way of granting degrees to undergrads. Do we do it based on the legacy of knowledge passed on? No, we do it by State decree. The much more Jewish way, since the "apostolic succession" model has significance tie-ins with rabbinic styles, does not guarantee that the knowledge will be right, but it does guarantee that some responsibility will have to be taken over the knowledge. This isn't a big lecture hall full of ultimately faceless students, but a one to one meeting of the minds (in a teacher-student, father-son proverbs-like format) that has consequences for both lives: reputations, future of the teaching heritage, and the communion of saints.
First on the list: Athansius' On the Incarnation of the Word of God.